By Russ and Tiña De Maris
Sir Isaac Newton, the English physicist, is credited with the saying, “What goes up, must come down.” If Newton had been an RV owner he likely would have had a corollary for black water tanks: “What goes in, must come out.” Would Professor Newton have used flushable wipes in his motorhome?
If he had, he might be considering jumping into a class action lawsuit, now being settled with Proctor & Gamble, the makers of Charmin Freshmates Flushable Wipes. Proclaimed the label, “Flushable and safe for sewers and septic systems,” and nobody disputes that these personal hygine products are indeed, flushable. But in Newton’s unwritten corollary, what goes in, may not necessarily come out – when it’s time to dump the black water tank.
The lawsuit arose, not by an RVer but with an unhappy customer with plumbing issues. Consumers from across the country have likewise complained, as have sewage treatment operators, that Freshmates may be flushable, but they aren’t “safe for sewers.” A flush of complaints about these clogged pipes, backed-up sewers, and sewage pump breakdowns started backing up in places like Consumer Reports offices. It didn’t take long for an enterprising firm of lawyers to get a whiff of the sewage story and file a suit.
Proctor & Gambles’ baby, Charmin Freshmates, are little towelettes that are big business. Estimates suggest Charmin’s parent company and others who produce and sell these kinds of products have been wiping up in the neighborhood of $6 billion in sales annually. They’ve got a feeling that you’ll buy the feeling they’re shoving at you. The little wipers are typically made of paper, viscose fibers, and non-woven fabric. Pump in a little softening lotion and perfume, and these flushable wipes fly off the shelf. Look at it this way: You can buy ordinary facial tissue to wipe your nose, or you can buy the stuff that smells and feels nice. The same thing can be applied to wiping – er – other areas of your anatomy.
But once you’ve used the product, what do you do with it? Safe to flush? Says the lawsuit settlement notice, “The lawsuit contends that these wipes were inappropriately marketed as ‘flushable,’ ‘septic safe,’ and ‘safe for sewer and septic systems.’” For its part, “Proctor & Gamble denies these allegations and maintains that the wipes perform as advertised.”
Nevertheless, the company is prepared to belly up to the bar and shell out millions to settle a class action lawsuit. The big winners, of course, are the plaintiff’s attorneys, who are asking $3,200,000 for their work. The next big winner is the original complainant, who could get $10,000. And everyone else in the suit is entitled to: “a partial cash refund of (i) seventy cents ($0.70) per package purchased, up to $6.30 per Household without Proof of Purchase; or (ii) one dollar and twenty cents ($1.20) for the first package with Proof of Purchase (and $1.00 for any additional packages with Proof of Purchase), up to $50.20 per Household with Proof of Purchase.” Ah, but here’s more fine print in the contract: The suit is settling an issue for purchases of these wipes in New York State. An earlier class-action suit handled other states–and for those of us who missed out, too late.
Wow! For those who kept their receipts, up to fifty bucks! We know of a company that bills itself as “The RV Proctologist” that sends workers with power flushers to clean out constipated RV black water tanks. It would take more than two full settlement’s worth to hire just one round of their specialist services. So the best thing to do, avoid the problem. Here’s one way: If you want to use these genius personal hygiene products, stick a wastebasket next to your RV toilet and pitch the used wipes, as opposed to flushing them. That’s undoubtedly the safest route.
Next in line, watch this clever video post from The Fit RV as their intrepid white-coated scientific team (dad, and cute 7-year-old assistant) walk you through a test of a half-dozen different “flushable wipes” that reveals the few that might be safe to toss in your black water tank. Then decide for yourself where you want to put those wiped-out wipes.
If you missed out on hearing about this class action lawsuit, and bought your wipes in New York State, move quickly! If you file the appropriate paperwork by August 22, you, too, can become a member of this rewarding suit, and have your part in cleaning up on Proctor & Gamble.
Updated 5/10/2020, 9:48 a.m., PDT: Clarifies the suit and filings are good only for purchases made in New York State.